Fantasy Talk: Talladega
This is a new feature discussing the best drivers put on your fantasy team for this weekend’s race. Drivers are broken down by A, B, and C List categories and based off of Yahoo’s listings.
Don’t blame me if you pick these drivers and have a bad week. Chances are I took the same drivers as well and I’m in the same boat you’re in.
For each category I’m going to give the drivers you should put on your team, plus a “wild-card” driver as a maybe, and a driver or two to avoid for this week’s race.
This week the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway for race four in the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup. They tamed the Monster but now face a beast. Talladega is the one true wild-card race remaining. One crash can change everything.
There are two lines of thought for a fantasy player going into Talladega with six races left after this one.
1) Go all out. Just pick the drivers who are statistically the best at Talladega.
2) Save starts. It’s almost guaranteed that there will be a big crash. It’s almost guaranteed that your fantasy drivers will be involved in that crash. So why start guys that you will need later in the season and waste a start? Start guys that you haven’t used much throughout the season. It’s plate racing. Everybody has a shot to win this race.
I personally will be using strategy number two, especially for my B-List drivers. I don’t usually do so well on the plate tracks.
But for the purposes of this column, we will take a look at the drivers that statistically are very good at Talladega.
A-List Drivers to Have:
Brad Keselowski: “Bad” Brad Keselowski has proved in 2012 that he is a true championship contender. He has five wins this season at all different types of tracks. But he also has two wins at Talladega. His first Sprint Cup win in April of 2009 came here. He also won the very last race at Talladega this past spring. He’s on a hot streak right now as well. He’s won two of the last three races. He’s a great pick heading into Sunday.
Kevin Harvick: Though he hasn’t run as strong at the plate tracks since his monster-2010 season, Harvick is always a great pick at the superspeedways. But he needs to finish the race. He didn’t contend for the win a year ago here after getting into a crash, and he repeated that story in April here. He had a chance at winning Daytona in July but got into another crash exiting turn four. If Harvick can finish the race, he’s a fantastic pick.
A-List “Wild-Card” Drivers:
Matt Kenseth: He came into the Chase as a favorite to win it all. But three bad races have left him all but eliminated heading into ‘Dega. Kenseth has been incredibly fast at the other three plate races. He won the Daytona 500. He finished third at Talladega in April, as well as at Daytona in July. I would have listed him listed in the “Drivers to Have” category if not for how he’s started the Chase. He had a shock come off the car in the first Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway. Then he broke the track-bar last week in Dover and spun out in turn four. He’s had terrible luck lately. I would bet on that terrible luck continuing this week.
A-List Drivers to Avoid:
Jimmie Johnson: Johnson does have two Talladega wins as well as a Daytona 500 win, but he’s still a very bad pick at the superspeedways. Johnson has crashed in all three plate races in 2012. His average finish in those three races is 35th. 5-time has finished in the top-five in all three Chase races so far, but I’d be willing to bet on that streak ending on Sunday.
B-List Drivers to Have:
Clint Bowyer: Bowyer is one driver that is almost always a contender for the win at Talladega. He has two wins at ‘Dega, four top-fives and seven top-10s. He also won this race last year. He one’s of the few drivers that actually looks forward to racing at Talladega. He’ll be up front at the end of the race on Sunday.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Talladega is Earnhardt Country. Dale Sr. was fantastic here, and Junior has been pretty good here as well. Junior has five Talladega wins (in a row), nine top-fives and 13 top-10s. Junior needs to have a good run on Sunday to get back into contention for the championship. For him, there’s no better place for that to happen than Talladega on Sunday.
Jamie McMurray: There aren’t too many places where McMurray falls into this list. And that’s not a slight towards Jamie. He was very strong in 2010, but Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing as a whole has been terrible since the start of the 2011 season. But McMurray is still a great pick for Sunday. He always runs up front here and also has two wins at ‘Dega. He also has two wins at Daytona.
Joey Logano: Logano may not have a Cup win at Talladega, but he has run surprisingly well there in his short career. He has two top-fives and four top-10s as well as a couple crashes (just like everyone else). He’s good pick if you’re looking to save starts for other drivers, but he still can get you a good finish.
B-List “Wild-Card” Drivers:
Kurt Busch: Kurt Busch is one of the best drivers who has yet to win a restrictor-plate race. He’s always fast and he’s come so close so many times but just cannot seal the deal. He does have a plate-race win to his credit in 2012, but that was a Nationwide Series race at Daytona in July. He came close to winning Talladega in April when he was channeling his inner-Ricky Bobby, but got spun out and crashed with just a few laps to go. He may be worth the risk though.
B-List Drivers to Avoid:
Ryan Newman: Newman is horrendous on plate tracks. Sure, he won the 2008 Daytona 500, but besides that one race he’s been terrible on plate tracks throughout his whole career. And he will openly tell you that as well. He hates Talladega. He doesn’t feel it’s racing. Avoid Newman.
As I always say, the C-List is a toss-up. But there are a few guys that could be smart to pick.
Bobby Labonte: Labonte has one win at Talladega in his career. But you’re not picking Labonte in the hopes that he wins on Sunday. You just want him to get you a solid finish. And chances are he will do that. Labonte is a smart racer. He knows how to avoid accidents and when it’s time to go and get the job done.
Trevor Bayne: Everybody thinks that because of his Daytona 500 win that he’s an ace on the plate tracks. That isn’t necessarily true, but he does know how to get the job done. He could be worth taking. He’s a go-or-go-home driver, but only 43 cars are in Talladega so he will definitely make the race.
Michael Waltrip: Waltrip has four wins in his long career. All four wins are on plate tracks. Three times at Daytona and once at Talladega. If drivers are willing to work with him, he can contend for the win. He’s not racing for points, so winning is the only thing on his mind.
David Ragan: Ragan has one Cup win and that one win is on a superspeedway. He won the July Daytona race in 2011. That was redemption for Ragan too. He had a shot at winning the 2011 Daytona 500 but a mental mistake on a late restart cost him a chance at the victory.